Funding Next Level Enterprises in Rural Communities: Rural Development and SBA/SBIR Business Development Programs


Monday, February 13, 2023


6:00pm – 8:00pm





Learn about USDA rural development's loans, grants, and technical assistance services designed to facilitate economic growth and resiliency in rural communities. Programs range from energy savings to housing loans to cooperative development. The workshop covers USDA rural development grants, Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and business planning resources, and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) research and development opportunities. Farmers who have worked with these programs also share their experiences.

Link to: Fact Sheet - Funding Next Level Enterprises in Rural Communities

About the USDA SBA/SBIR presenters:

Ili R. Spahiu, MSF is the deputy district director of the SBA - Massachusetts district office. Ili Spahiu joined SBA in June 2015. He is a seasoned and highly skilled financial professional with extensive experience in commercial lending. Ili started his professional career in retail lending, as a residential mortgage originator and transitioned to commercial lending and later financial planning. He brings a wealth of knowledge from the private sector having worked for various banks, credit unions and alternative lenders. He earned his BA in Public Administration from Clark University and a Master of Science in Finance degree from Graduate School of Management at Clark University.

Ili supervises the SBA field operations team and is responsible for the delivery of SBA programs and services in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is the point of contact for over 150 strategic partners and participating lenders in the state and is charged with the task of expanding the network of SBA lending institutions and strengthening the network of resource providers. Ili provides training on various SBA topics and works closely with SBA’s Office of Financial Assistance & Credit Risk Management on lender development and oversight, SBA’s Office of Business Development on program compliance and SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development supporting the training and counseling needs of small businesses throughout the state.

Lyndon Nichols has over 30 years’ experience in economic development working with small rural communities across Massachusetts on issues such as affordable housing, business development and job creation, community infrastructure, water & wastewater, renewable energy, beginner farmers and agricultural sustainability. He holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Massachusetts as well as an Associate’s from UMass’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture. He also has personal experience with agriculture operating a nursery/greenhouse operation for 5 years and as part owner of his family’s 500-acre farm in Vermont for nearly 20 years.

Robert Nelson has been district director of SBA’s Massachusetts office since 2007. In this role, Mr. Nelson is responsible for ensuring the effective delivery of SBA’s financial and business development programs which assist small businesses through access to capital and technical assistance. Mr. Nelson has a BA in economics from Hobart College and completed the Excellence in Government Fellows Program from the Partnership for Public Service in 2011.

Dr. David Songstad is a pivotal leader in science contributing to the success of Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, Cibus, and FemtoGen.  He currently serves as the National Program Leader for USDA-NIFA responsible for SBIR.  He also served as President of two NGOs, the Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB) and the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST). David also was the founder of FemtoGen a biosensor company which received SBIR funding and private equity investments.  In 2011, David became the Director of Cell Biology for the gene editing company Cibus which recently launched the first product consisting of Sulfonylurea-resistant canola which has received both USDA and Canadian PNT approval as non-GMO.  More recently, David founded “Songstad Consulting” where he provides consulting services in the plant biotech community.   David promoted scientific outreach by publishing books on Biofuels (in 2010 that was also re-published in Chinese due to popular demand) and a second book entitled “Convergence of Food Security, Energy Security and Sustainable Agriculture” which contains a chapter written by Dr. Gale Buchanan (former USDA Undersecretary) and was rolled out at the 2014 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

About the farmers sharing experiences:

Jeremy Barker Plotkin is founder of Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst, MA. Jeremy has been farming most of his life starting at his family’s homestead in New York State. He has a MS in Soil and Plant Science from the University of Maine and began Simple Gifts on a half acre at the New England Small Farm Institute in Belchertown. In 2006, he moved the farm to Amherst where he began farming with his business partner Dave Tepfer. Jeremy strives to manage the farm as an ecological system and enjoys witnessing his customers’ excitement at the variety of quality, organic produce they have to share.

Al Rose received degrees from Boston and Cornell Universities.  His Master of Science degree in Agricultural Economics thesis is titled, “The Family Farm and Direct Marketing: Adapting to an Urbanizing Environment”.  After a stint working for Frito-Lay, Al and his wife, Nancy, and their children returned to his family’s now diversified and exclusively retail farm operation, Red Apple Farm, in 2001.  The operation includes a year-round, on-farm retail store with a cidery and Brew Barn, two retail winter locations at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, and a downtown store at the year-round, indoor Boston Public Market.  Al, Nancy and their 4 kids represent the 4th and 5th generation to work at the farm.  Al serves on the boards of the Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association - as past President, New England Apple Association, Heywood Healthcare, GVNA Healthcare, Mount Grace Land Trust, and past Chairman of Visit North Central Massachusetts Tourism Association.

Additional Resources
USDA Rural Development—Database of all USDA programs and services supporting rural ag and development
Value-Added Producer Grants—award and application details
Rural Energy for America Program—award and application details
SBA Rural Businesses—comprehensive list of SBA funding for rural development

This material is based upon work supported by USDA/NIFA under Award number 2021-70027-34693, as an effort to connect Massachusetts' Underserved and Beginning Producers to Safety Net and Farm Support Programs.